How a Delaware man now suspected in four murders avoided prison after violating probation
A Delaware probation officer wanted Keith Gibson to spend more years in prison. A public defender and the judge pushed back, and he was set free.Listen 1:39
When Keith Gibson faced a judge in Delaware in April for violating his probation by being out of state, authorities knew Philadelphia police suspected him in the murder of his mother in February.
Gibson’s probation officer had initially wanted him back behind bars for six-and-a-half years. That’s the time left on the 20-year sentence he received in 2010 for manslaughter and a weapons count before being put on probation in 2020.
But after a debate in court this spring, Gibson was released from custody on April 27.
Since regaining his freedom, Gibson is suspected of committing three more killings, according to Philadelphia police. And on Wednesday, Philadelphia authorities approved a murder charge against Gibson in the death of his mother, 54-year-old Christine Gibson, at her home.
Philadelphia authorities previously charged Gibson in the killing of a Dunkin’ employee who was gunned down this month. The other two slayings — for which he has not been charged — occurred in Delaware, one in a Wilmington street shooting and the other during a robbery at a Metro by T-Mobile store in Elsmere.
Gibson, 39, has been back in custody since June 8, when he was captured wearing body armor and weapons after an alleged armed robbery in Wilmington, police said. He is now being held in a Delaware prison on $305,200 cash bail on the robbery charge.
The story of how Gibson escaped a lengthy prison term two months ago is revealed in documents obtained by WHYY News, including his probation report and transcripts of two hearings before Superior Court Judge Vivian L. Medinilla.
Two weeks after state probation officials recommended Gibson serve six-and-a-half years for violating parole, they changed their minds, asking for a minimum of 30 days.
Asked why the recommendation was lowered, Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis told WHYY the case is yet another in a troubling “pattern” of judges and defense attorneys pushing back on probation officers who seek “hard jail time” for violent offenders who violate the terms of their release.
Corrections spokesperson Jason Miller told WHYY that Gibson had initially been released from prison to a less restrictive facility in June 2020, but soon violated his conditions by “fighting with other offenders.” A judge put him back in prison for six months, followed by 18 months of probation.
That probation period began in December, and Gibson was free until Philadelphia police detained him after his mother was killed Feb. 8.
After Philadelphia authorities contacted Gibson’s Delaware probation officer, Larry S. Charles, he prepared a scathing report on Feb. 9 that charged Gibson with violating his probation and sought to put him back behind bars.
Charles’ report cited multiple factors, including:
- Philadelphia police had told him Gibson was the “prime suspect” in his mother’s killing. Charles wrote that “early reports suggest Mr. Gibson’s mother informed numerous friends and family members if something were to happen to me, her son would be the one responsible.”
- Gibson’s “extensive history of violence’’ and “documented anger issues,” including 64 previous criminal charges, with nine convictions for felonies and 15 for misdemeanors. Besides the manslaughter/weapons conviction, which had been pleaded down from a first-degree murder count, his other offenses included assault and terroristic threatening.
- He had also violated probation 14 times over the years.
Officer seeks jail time for probation violation
Charles presented his case for a lengthy incarceration for Gibson to Judge Medinilla during Gibson’s April 13 violation of probation hearing, held via Zoom. Gibson had been extradited to Delaware in late March.
Gibson and his public defender, Meghan Crist, initially told the judge that Gibson had Charles’ permission to be out of Delaware, as he was trying to have his probation transferred to Pennsylvania. Charles disputed that account.
Gibson told the judge he had been “working the whole time” he was free at the Resource for Human Development in Philadelphia.
Crist also asserted that despite being suspected of killing his mom, Gibson was worried about the well-being of a cat at her house “that has been left without anyone caring for it for over two months.”
Gibson ultimately admitted to the violation, however. “I’m saying that I’m violated, but Mr. Charles understood that I was traveling to and from Philadelphia.”
Medinilla told the parties she would not consider the Philadelphia murder investigation in her deliberations. She also said she could sentence Gibson that day but was going to “defer” to give Crist and Charles time to speak about “a proper consideration of the sentence.”
She noted that while Charles was seeking “a significant amount” of prison time, “I’ll give you an opportunity to consider that and look to determine whether that’s an appropriate sanction in light of the finding that Mr. Gibson was in violation only to the extent that he was in Pennsylvania instead of here in Delaware.”
Gibson freed after probation officer relents
At the sentencing hearing on April 27, two weeks later, Crist argued that Gibson had two jobs in Philadelphia, including one with a moving company, before he was taken into custody there for questioning about his mother’s killing.
Crist also argued that Gibson’s probation violation was a “technical violation” and that Charles’ push for six-and-a-half years in prison was “unreasonable.” She noted that her client had already been behind bars for more than two months in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Charles was not at the second hearing because of a scheduling conflict, DeMatteis told WHYY. Instead, probation officer Jasmine Erwin represented her office.
Erwin told the judge she didn’t have “anything to add” to the case for further incarceration but said she believed, after speaking with Charles that morning, the state was asking for “at minimum, 30 days” in prison for violating probation.
Medinilla then pointed out that two weeks earlier Charles sought years behind bars for Gibson.
“Is that what I am hearing, that you are now modifying your recommendation?” the judge asked.
“That is correct,’’ Erwin replied. “That is my understanding.”
Medinilla gave Gibson 31 days in prison, starting the clock when he had been returned to Delaware March 26, followed by 18 more months of probation. He was also ordered to complete an anger management course and an alcohol treatment program.
But since Gibson already served the prison time, the ruling made him a free man.
Gibson was free for six weeks, until rush hour on June 8, when police in Wilmington responding to an armed robbery on West Fourth Street found him nearby, heavily armed.
Gibson wore a ballistic vest and carried a loaded firearm as well as ammunition, a knife and narcotics, police said. He was charged with first-degree robbery, possessing firearms and ammunition, wearing body armor, and possession of an unspecified drug with intent to deliver.
Prosecutors sought to hold him on $1.22 million cash bail but a magistrate reduced it to $305,200, said Mat Marshall, spokesman for Attorney General Kathy Jennings. He is being held at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington.
Meanwhile, he was charged with the June 5 shooting and killing of a 41-year-old Christine Lugo as she opened the Dunkin’ store in North Philadelphia she managed.
“Keith Gibson is also facing criminal prosecution for heinous crimes in Delaware, where he is being held in custody,” Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement. “Investigations of additional criminal incidents, including murders, are ongoing, and will likely result in additional criminal charges.”
Philadelphia police singled out two as-yet-unsolved Delaware cases:
- The May 15 killing of 28-year-old Leslie Ruiz-Basilio, who worked at the Metro by T-Mobile store in Elsmere, just southwest of Wilmington. Her body was found in the store’s basement after an apparent robbery and the suspect stole her SUV, police have said.
- The June 6 shooting death in Wilmington of 42-year-old Ronald Wright, whose body was found about 2 a.m. in the 1200 block of W. Third St.
‘You want to put too many people in jail’
DeMatteis, whose department includes the Division of Probation and Parole, defended her officers Wednesday when discussing the case with WHYY.
She said Judge Medinilla could have sentenced Gibson at the initial April 13 hearing but chose to postpone the matter “for no reason, really … so we know, walking into that April 27, that the judge and the public defender do not support and think that our recommendation is excessive.”
She said officer Erwin “conceded” to the 31-day sentence not only because they knew the judge and defense attorney were against a long sentence but also because Gibson had reportedly secured housing and employment.
Asked why the probation officers didn’t stand their ground, even though they suspected their argument might fail, DeMatteis said their predicament illustrates a systemic problem in the justice system.
“You can’t look at this case in isolation,’’ DeMatteis said. “This is what our probation officers are up against, against judges every single time they go in for a violation of probation. Time and again, our probation officers are told, ‘You’re asking for too much time. You want to put too many people in jail.’”
“It is a history and a pattern of our judges. And we’ve had to talk to our judges about this, that when our probation officers go into court and ask for hard jail time that the judges push back and the public defenders push back and the judges agree with the public defenders and not the probation officer. It happens time and time again and it’s what happened in this case.”
A reporter noted that the judge only ruled after the probation officer agreed with the defense attorney’s recommendation.
“It’s a bit convenient for judges to say, ‘But the probation officer was recommending time served,’” DeMatteis added.
“It’s the judge who makes that decision. The judge could have sentenced this inmate, this offender, to six-and-a-half years on April 13. Instead, the judge delayed the sentencing by two weeks for no apparent reason and then continued to push back on our probation officer about hard jail time.”
Crist and her office would not comment on the assertions by DeMatteis. Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden has not yet responded to a request for comment.
6abc contributed reporting to this story.
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